ONS Well-being Survey

In Nov.-Dec. 2017, the SOAS Sylheti Project was contacted by NatCen Social Research to consult at the final stages on the development of a short well-being survey that the Office for National Stastics (ONS) were developing to be asked in recorded audio as well as multi-script written version to non- or semi-literate monolingual Sylheti and Urdu speakers in the UK. (We helped improve their professionally-translated heavily-Bengalied work that people in the focus groups weren’t understanding so well, to be more culturally sensitive as well as more linguistically Sylheti.)


Find the final recordings and texts at:

Sylheti resources


Find NatCen’s final report at:

Click to access Translation-and-cognitive-testing-of-harmonised-personal-well-being-questions.pdf

Where you can read:

  • pages 11-12
    1.4  Sylheti in the UK
    Sylheti and its dialects are originally spoken in ‘Greater Sylhet’ which comprises four districts in north-east Bangladesh and three districts in south Assam, India. Most of the self-identifying Bangladeshi and/or Bangla/Bengali immigrants in the UK have family origins in the Greater Sylhet region and speak a variant of Sylheti, a language on the continuum between Bengali and Assamese. Sylheti is not a recognized state language and as it is afforded low prestige as a minority language in Bangladesh, many Sylheti speakers may prefer to say they speak ‘Bengali’. Sylheti has a traditional script, Siloti/Syloti Nagri that was in use in Greater Sylheti and elsewhere until the 1970s when socio-political pressures encouraged the disuse and destruction of the Siloti Nagri printing presses. Some elders, even here in the UK, are literate in Siloti Nagri. There have been recent revival efforts surrounding Siloti Nagri in Greater Sylhet and in the diaspora, especially since the addition of Siloti Nagri in Unicode. Popularly considered a ‘dialect’ of Bengali, Sylheti hasn’t been written formally since the 1970s. Many Sylheti speakers have learned standard Bengali and are literate in Eastern Nagri (the script used to write both Bengali and Assamese, amongst others); many have adapted Eastern Nagri to write Sylheti in an informal, phonemic-type transcription, sounds existing in Sylheti that do not exist in standard Bengali.
    In addition to, and because of, dialectal variation within Sylheti as a language, and because Sylheti has lost its literary tradition, there are no standard spellings in Sylheti. Instead, people may write as they speak using a modified alphabet in Eastern Nagri (8) or may write using standard Bengali spellings that they pronounce in their variety of Sylheti- in a diglossia similar to that in Arabic where people speak one way and write in another. There are about 400,000 people in the UK who speak Sylheti, but many refer to Sylheti as ‘Bengali’. Sylheti is sometimes considered to be a dialect of Bengali in the UK, however, its phonology and morphology differ from Bengali to the point that they are not mutually understandable. It is spoken by 95% of Bangladeshis living in the UK. According to the 2011 census, over 450,000 UK residents said their ethnicity was Bangladeshi (about 53% of them were born in Bangladesh). The census also found that Bengali (Sylheti and Chatgaya) is the main language spoken by 0.4% (221,000) of the UK population.
    8. A script is a list of ‘letters’ while an alphabet is a system of assigning certain sound values to the ‘letters’.
  • page 25
    3.2.3 Findings from the Sylheti workshop
    Overall comments
    Attendees to the Sylheti workshop felt that the tone of the preamble and the question translations was too formal, rude and cold, but also most importantly that the accent was too closely related to Bengali, rather than Sylheti. The attendees in the workshop felt that a monolingual Sylheti speaker might regard these translations as too formal and too high class. It was also found that the two versions are not that different, rather, the pronunciation and accent of one made it appear very different from the other one. The female version was considered slightly more Sylheti, than the male version. Although most Sylheti speakers could potentially understand both versions, that was not the language and register they would use on a regular basis. Sylheti being regarded as a dialect by some, and thus “inferior”, is subject to complicated power dynamics which are reflected in the language and the language use within the community. However, the current project aimed at finding the best translation that would be understood by monolingual Sylheti speakers who might not be fluent or literate in Bengali. It was thus recommended that the preamble and the questions be revised to be more in line with the more colloquial Sylheti language.
    It was also felt that more detail and reassurance would be necessary to be included in the preamble if it was to be used in the field with monolingual speakers. Explaining in more detail what the purpose of the questions were, what a scale is and how to answer the questions on a scale, and using more gentle and familiar language was deemed to be essential for the successful delivery of the questions to monolingual Sylheti speakers.
  • pages 66-70
    Final wording for the Sylheti translation is presented in:
    -Transliteration in Latinscript
    -Eastern Nagri (Bengali script)
    -Translation word for word in English

    Below, we also provide the transcription of this text in Siloti Nagri, a script that was used to write Sylheti, which was lost and it is being revived now(see Section 1.4 for details).

    (See also:  http://www.natcen.ac.uk/media/1573159/Sylheti_Transcription_Siloti_Nagri-script.pdf)

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